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Former Durham mayor, General Motors CEO among six announced as honorary degree recipients

The University announced it will award six honorary degrees at this year’s commencement ceremony on May 13.

The recipients will be:

  • Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian born writer who authored “Americanah”, the first-year summer reading book for the class of 2018. She is also known for her TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” and essay “We Should All Be Feminists.” In 2008, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.
  • Mary Barra, chairman and CEO of General Motors, is the first female CEO of a major global automaker. She was named Fortune’s most powerful woman in 2015, 2016 and 2017. She was also elected chair of GM’s Board of Directors in 2016.
  • Bill Bell is the longest-serving mayor in Durham’s history, having served for eight terms from 2001-17. Bell previously served on the city’s Board of County Commissioners and as chief operating officer of United Durham Inc. Community Development Corporation.
  • Phil Freelon was the lead architect for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016, and has previously partnered with Duke to combat ALS. He lives in Durham and has served as an adjunct faculty member at North Carolina State University’s College of Design. He won the American Institute of Architects Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture in 2009 and received an appointment to the National Commission of Fine Arts from President Obama.
  • William Kaelin, Trinity '78 and School of Medicine '82, is professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and former associate director for basic science of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. Kaelin was elected to be a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010. His research has had huge implications for understanding cancer, anemia, myocardial infarction and stroke.
  • Russell Robinson II, Trinity '54 and Law School '56, is an attorney and philanthropist, and founding partner of Robinson, Bradshaw and Hinson, where he focuses primarily on corporate and commercial law, securities and nonprofit organizations.  He served for 30 years as a trustee and 11 years as chair of The Duke Endowment. During his time as a student at Duke, Robinson was editor-in-chief of the Duke Law Journal.

President Vincent Price noted in a press release that the choice in honorary degree recipients aims to inspire the graduating class of 2018.

“They each have been bold leaders in their respective fields, and their work has enriched and improved our lives,” Price said.

The news about the honorary degree recipients comes after the University announced in January that Apple CEO Tim Cook will be the commencement speaker.  


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